When I teach medieval cookery classes I like to pick three dishes, each representing one of three criteria: something familiar, something interesting and something weird. Today’s Christmas recipe is something weird. At least it is for anyone who hasn’t tasted a dessert-style meat pie.
In England, mince pie has been a Christmas food tradition for centuries. Traditional pies were often sweetened with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and sometimes raisins or currants. While a modern mince pie might contain suet or shredded beef, if it has any meat product in it at all, for a long time the meat of choice was mutton. This is why the Tudors and Elizabethans referred to mince pie as mutton pies or shrid pies. Over the years the pie began to lose the savory elements and by the 19th century, many recipes were leaving out the meat entirely. Commercially bottled “mincemeat” filling has very little in common with its medieval ancestors.
Here is a nice overview of Mincemeat Pie History.
Prior to the late Renaissance there doesn’t seem to be any mincemeat recipes specifically called “mincemeat,” but there are a number of dishes that bear a striking resemblance. These dishes are very likely the direct ancestors of the traditional mince or mutton pies in the 16th and 17th centuries. They go by many names including Tartes of Flesche (Forme of Cury), Tartus of fflesh (Harleian ms) or simply “pyes.”
It was quite common to blend sweet and savory elements into the same dishes, so it is not at all unusual to find meat pies containing sugar and fruit. Whether or not they are official medieval versions of traditional mince meat is debatable. Depending on who you ask, mincemeat could really refer to any chopped meat pie sweetened with fruit or spices.
Some possible relatives of the mince pie:
Flampoyntes, the recipe we’re doing today, is something I consider to be a lid-less variation on a mince or Christmas pie. However, it doesn’t call for any dried fruits like currants or dates. A duplicate recipe in a Rylands manuscript calls this pie Flaumpeyns.
Herbelade is a meat tart with fruits and spices, but there are a number of additional savory ingredients like herbs and nuts, as well as broth, wine and/or vinegar. It might be much more savory than sweet.
Chewits/Chawettys/Chewetts are found in a large variety of sources, not all of them English. Many variations have a very similar flavor profile to mincemeat but are much smaller, baked in “coffins” that are probably the size of muffin or what we now usually call “tarts.”
Pyes de Pares (Pies of Paris) is a 15th sweet meat pie, but uses only ginger and sugar with the currants and omits the cinnamon and cloves.
Posteten von Rindfleisch (Beef Pie) is a 15th century German recipe that contains beef and chicken and sweet spices, but no fruit. Another earlier German recipe from the 14th century recipe collection, Ein Buch von Guter Speise, contains a recipe for a meat pie with fruit, but lacking spices except for pepper. Heidenische kuchen (Heathen cakes) could possibly be interpreted as a German-style mince pie.
Flampoyntes (14th century)
Take fat pork ysode. Pyke it clene; grynde it smal. Grynde chese & do therto with sugur & gode powdours. Make a coffyn of an ynche depe, and do this fars therin. Make a thynne foile of gode past & cerue out theroff small poyntes, frye hem & put hem in the fars, & bake it vp &c.
Take fat pork boiled. Pick it clean; grind it small. Grind cheese and add sugar and good powders. Make a coffin/pastry of an inch deep and put in the filling. Make a thin sheet of good pastry and carve out small points, fry them and put them in the filling and bake it up.
- Pastry dough for 2 pie crusts
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 C grated, mild cheese (mozzarella, brie, provolone, camembert)
- ½ c. sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1½ tsp. powdered ginger
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- Salt to taste
- Butter or olive oil for sautéing
Step ONE: Prepare the crust
Pre-bake one pie crust. Follow the instructions on the package if you purchased the crusts. Poke holes or add weights to prevent the pastry from puffing up.
If you’d rather make your own pastry dough you can use the recipes found in my article on fig tarts.
Step TWO: Make the Filling
Take fat pork boiled. Pick it clean; grind it small. Grind cheese and add sugar and good powders
Brown the ground pork then combine with the cheese and the spices in a bowl.
I opted for using a ground pork rather than boiling pork chops, de-boning and hand grinding. A little bit of moisture is lost doing it this way, but I liked how it turned out.
“Good powders” is the scribe’s go-ahead for you as the chef to create your own flavor profile. This interpretation calls for cinnamon, ginger and cloves, with the optional addition of nutmeg. Pepper, allspice and mace could also work if you want your flavor to be extra strong and spicy.
Step THREE: The Points
Make a thin sheet of good pastry and carve out small points, fry them and put them in the filling and bake it up.
Using the remaining pastry dough, carve out small diamonds and sauté in butter or oil over low heat. Sauté only long enough for diamonds to have a light gold color on both sides. Don’t burn them.
You will be be decorating your pie with these, so be sure to make enough diamonds. Handle them delicately so they don’t fall apart.
Step FOUR: Fill the Pie and Bake
Fill the pie shell with the meat/cheese mixture and add the pastry points (see the note below). Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Note: Using the pastry diamonds, create a design in the top of the pie, point sides up. This can be done before baking, halfway through or after. If adding points after cooking, it may be necessary to cut grooves into the top where the points will go.
I have tried this a few different ways. My preference is to bake the pie for around 10-15 minutes then add the points so they stay nice and golden and do not overcook. Otherwise, I would probably put them in prior to baking if I want to do a design that is fancy and time consuming.
Decorating Your Pie
If you’re wondering what kind of design to do or what the “point” of the points is, the official answer is I have no idea.
I don’t know what medieval flampoyntes actually looked like, but I would imagine you could stick the diamonds in randomly all throughout the pie, or maybe around the perimeter to look like a crown. If you want to spell out your name or initials I’m sure nobody will stop you.
As for why…well, I guess it’s more interesting than putting a boring lid on it like all the other mince pies. Upper class medieval chefs are known for doing bizarre and unnecessarily showy things, such as dyeing things into different colors or shaping egg-less foods to look like eggs or sewing parts of different animals together to horrify the guests. If we’re speculating, I would probably say that a crown makes some sense, especially if it’s meant to be eaten around Epiphany or Christmas. Just have fun with it!
This pie gets mixed reviews but please don’t let that scare you away! I personally like it, as do most of my students who have tried it. My husband, on the other hand, finds it a bit too odd and recently listed it as the strangest thing I’ve made. I would disagree. He is obviously not used to eating sugary, cheesy ground pork on top of pastry.
Try making this pie at home, and if you want to tone down the sweetness you can certainly do that. If you want to do the opposite, increase your sugar to 3/4 cup and reduce the amount of ginger by 1/2 tsp.
Enjoy your medieval flampoyntes!